Following recent legislative elections in Venezuela, the United States and the European Union have condemned the plebiscite as illegitimate. The election, conducted on December 6th, saw President Nicolás Maduro’s Great Patriotic Pole coalition win over two-thirds of the cast ballots. The victory solidifies Maduro’s control over the National Assembly, the one formal institution still nominally controlled by members of the opposition party.
Multiple Western foreign dignitaries strongly denounced the election. United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the election “a political farce.” Meanwhile, E.U. diplomat Josep Borrel claimed the election “failed to comply with the minimum international standards.” According to Reuters, other Latin American countries claimed that the vote “lack[ed] legality and legitimacy.” Turnout for the election stood at 31 per cent, half the rate of the 2015 elections in which opposition parties won the National Assembly.
The election, and following reactionary statements from international actors, come after years of diplomatic and economic conflict between Venezuela, its regional neighbors, and Western powers. After Maduro stripped the National Assembly of many of its powers in 2017, over 60 countries, led by the United States, recognized opposing leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader in January 2019. Furthermore, the United States has instituted a gradually intensifying sanctions regime against the Venezuelan state, many individuals linked to Maduro, and state-controlled companies and their partners. According to the Congressional Research Service, sanctions implemented by both Presidents Obama and Trump, with Congressional backing, have targeted Venezuela’s oil, finance, and gold industries, and cut off the country from allies like Russia and Iran.
The prominent hardline approach supporting Guaido has so far failed to yield results. Guaido failed to instill significant unrest or population mobilization within Venezuela, and no institutions, like the army or police forces, came to support him. However, Guaido still maintains his anointed status from major powers who want to see him replace Maduro. While these countries dig in to supporting Guaido’s questionably legitimate claim to the presidency at little cost to themselves, the human toll in Venezuela and beyond continues to climb.
The effect of America’s sanctions regime remains contested. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.), the sanctions followed, rather than caused, economic downturn. On the other hand, Venezuela’s economy relies heavily on oil prices, and the toll the sanctions imposed on the oil industry, combined with the drop in oil prices in recent years, has exacerbated poor economic conditions. The C.S.I.S.’s Moises Rendon and Max Price also argue that sanctions’ effectiveness varies depending on type, and that sectoral sanctions tend to harm the population at large rather than targeting those in power.
Severe economic deterioration has eviscerated Venezuelan quality of life. In February 2018, Reuters reported that Venezuelans had lost an average of 24 pounds in the previous year and that poverty had risen to 90 per cent. These dire conditions, along with other factors, have spurred significant emigration. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status has increased by 8,000 per cent since 2014.
Countries next door and across Latin America and the Caribbean have absorbed over 5 million Venezuelans leaving their country. According to the Brookings Institution, this significant influx has caused tension over a false perception of criminality among Venezuelan migrants in notable host countries such as Colombia, where 1.8 million Venezuelans now live.
The Venezuelan crisis reaches beyond its borders. This has become a regional issue in need of international cooperation for resolution.
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